Archive for the ‘Insane conservatives’ Category
The Corporate States of America just got itself a new jolt of freedom thanks to Chief Justice John Roberts and his Happy Conservative Warrior Quartet.
[T]he Supreme Court continued chipping away at federal campaign finance reforms with a 5-4 ruling striking down the federal cap on the total amount of money an individual donor can spend supporting candidates and political parties during a two-year election cycle.
The ruling, which split the high court along ideological lines, eliminates the aggregate the cap on the total amount of money an individual can donate to candidates and party fundraising committees during an election season, which was set at $123,200 for 2013 and 2014. That cap was so high that only…several hundred mega-rich donors reached it during the last election cycle.
Meaning that this ruling effects, at most, a mere few hundred people. Fortunately, those few hundred are the richest few hundred people in the country and who deserves a self-serving law that crews democracy more than them?
The ruling also could inflate the power of joint fundraising committees, which take large donations from donors and funnel the cash to candidates and party committees with full knowledge of who signed the original check.
“Eliminating these limits will now allow a single politician to solicit, and a single donor to give, up to $3.6 million through the use of joint fundraising committees,” said Michael Walden, president of the Brennan Center for Justice. “Following the Citizens United decision, this will further inundate a political system already flush with cash, marginalize average voters, and elevate those who can afford to buy political access.”
I don’t think Mr Walden gets it. See, money is free speech and in the CSA you only get as much FS as you can afford to buy and those few hundred have made sure you don’t get paid enough to buy hardly any so they get more than you or me and that’s the way it should be.
Get used to it. If you can’t afford to pay for an election, you don’t deserve to have one.
The NYT’s block of editorial blockheads have had quite a week for themselves. First Tom Friedman embarrasses himself by writing about economics as if he knew what the word meant, and now David Brooks notices the country isn’t in very good shape after years of the austerity and corporate theft he’s been championing as solutions without actually realizing that’s what he’s doing. Pretty good trick for a normal person but a necessary skill for right-wingers. Without it their heads would explode collectively. Read the rest of this entry »
Reprinted from 12.24.06 – And it will continue to be printed until the O’Reilly-originated “War on Christmas” BS ends. There’s no antidote to lies except truth.
This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious. Read the rest of this entry »
Recently Ted “My hair has a life of its own and it’s better than mine” Cruz took a tentative step outside the Conservative Bubble inside which he has spent most of his life in order to address a group of *gasp!!* ordinary people.
It didn’t go too well. They…well, they laughed at him.
Speaking with Fox News’ Chris Wallace in front of a crowd for the Atlantic’s Washington Ideas Forum, Ted Cruz claimed he “didn’t want a shutdown” — a comment that was immediately greeted with laughter.
To be fair, the audience, apparently unclear on the concept of just how disconnected from reality a bubble-ized conservative is, thought he was self-referentially joking. He wasn’t.
Responding to laughter in the audience in response, Cruz said, “Now, folks here can disagree, but repeatedly, I voted to keep the government open.”
He believes it, too. He actually thinks that’s the way it went down. Conservative bubblers are nothing if not mentally flexible. As rubber bands.
Sorry, Ted. The real world doesn’t coddle you like the bubble does. Sometimes it laughs.
A lot of well-meaning but thoughtless people have been supporting the modern GOP because they believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, in the right-wing myth of corporate efficiency and competence. What all these people refused to acknowledge was that the reality beneath the appearance of corporate success had far less to do with competence than greed, far less to do with efficiency than ruthlessness.
Well they may still be in denial but if they’re paying attention at all they will have realized that we are seeing corporate-style governing this week in the extortion and blackmail the Republican Congress has loosed on the nation in a desperate attempt to get its own way. These are time-honored corporate strategies used by disparate corpos from Disney to IBM to Microsoft to Wal-mart to McDonald’s. Extortion, blackmail, and bribery are the three key components of American corporate success.
So it was no surprise when Robert Reich let it slip in his blog that this govt shutdown was planned and paid for by…tah dah!…the corporate BigWigs of th 0.1%.
The bullies are a faction inside the Republican Party – extremists who are threatening more reasonable Republicans with primary challenges if they don’t go along.
And where are the Tea Party extremists getting their dough? From even bigger bullies – a handful of hugely wealthy Americans who are sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into this extortion racket.
They include David and Charles Koch (and their front group, “Americans for Prosperity’); Peter Thiel, leverage-buyout specialist John Childs, investor Howie Rich, Stephen Jackson of the Stevens Group, and executives of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, (all behind the “Club for Growth”); and Crow Holdings’ Harlan Crow, shipping magnate Richard Uihlein, and investment banker Foster Friess; executives of MetLife and Philip Morris, and foundations controlled by the Scaife family (all bankrolling “FreedomWorks.”)
Their game plan is to not just to take over the Republican Party. It’s to take over America.
These are the standard tactics of a hostile takeover: threats and intimidation. Do what we want or we’ll burn down the store. I’d say the gloves are off. They’re not even pretending anymore.
In the course of discussing Fox’s penchant for insisting that there’s a race war…against whites, naturally…Ellen Brodsky asks the kind of question I keep hearing from the left, a querulous confusion suffused by puzzlement.
Given Fox’s symbiosis with the Republican Party and given the GOP’s supposed desire to win back minority voters, it’s hard to understand what Fox thinks is to be gained from this outpouring of antipathy.
The unstated assumption is that both Fox and the Republican party aren’t really batshit crazy but are somehow actually responding to a perceived – however misperceived – sense of rational self-interest. The assumption, however, is unwarranted. They aren’t, either of them. Instead they are, and have been increasingly over the last three decades, responding not to any form of reason, however twisted, but to the dark, fevered emotions of the id, and a damaged id at that.
Psychologically, the profile of the right wing in America is the profile of a paranoid psychopath. Read the rest of this entry »
Apparently it’s finally dawning on Republicans that redistricting to win seats has its limitations. There comes a point when even your supporters have had enough destruction and death.
Their problems are threefold and intertwined. First, the GOP has become effectively agenda-less, advocating policies that lack popular support, and that they quite possibly couldn’t execute even if they controlled the government entirely.
Second, as Politico honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen explain, “The party is hurting itself even more with the very voters they need to start winning back: Hispanics, blacks, gays, women and swing voters of all stripes.” That’s partially a consequence of theiragenda-less-ness, and partially a consequence of its members’ propensity to say things and advocate ideas that further alienate women and minorities.
Third, a combination of chance and poor decisions will turn the coming midterm into a referendum on issues custom tailored to energize Democratic demographics that tend to sit out midterms.
Actually there are four problems, not three. Number 4 is that it isn’t just that their policies “lack popular support”. It’s that their policies are batshit crazy and as destructive as a plague. Read the rest of this entry »
I wish I could say it feels good seeing everybody finally catching up with me after a decade or so, but it doesn’t. I predicted Obama’s corporate sell-out and got kicked off a Democrat group blog. I predicted his continued support of the Bush attack on privacy rights, and even that he would strengthen that attack, and I got left-wing hate mail. I predicted that he wouldn’t close Gitmo, and discovered that I was a “traitor”, an “extremist”, and, somehow, a Commie conservative. Nobody wanted to hear it, let alone believe it, but here we are, 5 years later, with massive NSA spying approved by the Administration, drones and a new presidential power to use them against anyone he (or she) doesn’t like and on his/her own say-so and nothing more, a continuing Gitmo embarrassment that Obama won’t end even though everybody – even the military – wants him to, and a Justice Dept that seems more eager to protect corporate profits than civil rights. Even some of his most rabid supporters are now being forced to admit that a Third Way Dem hasn’t turned out to be much of an improvement over a whacko corporate Pub. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the easiest adjustments to make as we re-work our psyches to fit the pre- and misconceptions of the New American Oligarchy is the one where we have to re-write history. This has become such a common tactic of the corporate media that it almost goes without saying but it can still come as a surprise when you’re not expecting it.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his party maintain that Washington policy plays a limited role in entrepreneurial success, and is often more of a hindrance than a help.
In pushing that theme this week, though, some of the speakers have left out part of the story.
In a convention floor speech Tuesday night, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin boasted that people rushed into her state in the Great Land Run of 1889 with only their own grit to thank, and no help from the federal government.
“And in 1897, eight years after the land run, a handful of adventurous pioneers risked their own money – not the federal government’s money – to drill Oklahoma’s first oil well, the Nellie Johnstone,” she told conventioneers.
However, Fallin’s characterization omitted major chunks of federal government involvement, including the Dawes Act of 1887 and other measures that forced Indian tribes onto reservations, freeing “open” surplus lands for white settlers. Oil later was found on some of that land. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided the method by which the land was distributed to settlers.
This is known as “history by omission”: not actually a lie, all you need do is leave out the part of the truth you’d rather people didn’t know. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most challenging aspects of adjusting to the NAO’s is the fact that so many of them are, well, stupid. Todd Akin’s absurd belief that women have some sort of magical control over their bodies if only they’d decide to use it is just the tip of a very large, annoying, and dangerous iceberg. The Times’ Timothy Egan gives a chapter and verse or two that barely scratch the surface but make the point quite clearly: many of the most powerful people in the country, all of them major puppets of the oligarchs, have demonstrated again and again that they have great faith but zero actual knowledge. Read the rest of this entry »
Molly used to tell the story of her first day covering the Texas legislature for the Observer. She sat in the press box that morning watching the most powerful men in the state (they were all men in those days) enter the chamber, slap each other on the butt, and commence talking about what “a fine piece o’ tail” they had last night, you shoulda seen ‘er, some of them packing guns under their suit coats, and she thought, “This is going to be fun.” It was due to her reporting, at least in part, that the Texas legislature became a national joke.
It isn’t all that funny now. As one of the posters on a BBS forum I used to inhabit liked to point out, the agenda Bush brought with him to Washington originally was less a neocon agenda than the agenda of the Texas Republican Party, lifted from that quirky, ignorant, arrogant collection of blockheads, blind ideologues, batshit whackos, and corrupt “bidnissmen” to be transferred whole and unedited to the national stage like a small town minstrel show suddenly invading Broadway. That it has been an embarrassment to anyone who doesn’t piss in a box and a disgrace to what America used to stand for was, in hindsight, entirely predictable.
The two dumbest ideas Bush brought with him from Texas have to be a) the belief that you can slash taxes to the bone – especially corporate taxes – without hurting core social services like education and maintenance of the infrastructure, and b) the conviction that privatization of core govt responsibilities – like education and maintaining the infrastructure – would somehow be cheaper and more efficient despite the abysmal record of the corporatocracy in both areas, and despite the need to show massive profits to investors, a need the govt doesn’t have.
After nearly 7 years of untrammeled experimentation in both areas, what should have been clear from the beginning has now been proven beyond doubt: both these “policies” are dismal failures.
A. The Low-Tax Experiment
Mark Gisleson at Norwegianity links to a piece by Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Dave Hage titled “The damage done” in which Hage examines the effect of Minnesota’s experiment with a low-tax fiscal structure. It isn’t, as they say, a pretty picture.
Between 1997 and 2001, the Legislature passed five major tax cuts — not just temporary rebates but permanent rate reductions that reduced the state’s revenue stream by $1 billion annually and left state government, measured against the Minnesota economy, 10 percent smaller than it was in the mid-1990s.
Now an outside study has put Minnesota in a national context and confirmed those doubts about the low-tax experiment. Two analysts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington identified 16 states that passed major tax cuts during the late 1990s, then studied their economic performance in the 2001-2006 recovery.
The results? On key measures such as job creation and unemployment, virtually all of the 16 lagged behind the 34 states that didn’t pass major tax cuts. Minnesota, though its economy picked up steam in 2006, still posted weaker job creation and income growth than the U.S. average over the five-year span.
“There’s just no evidence that moving to lower tax levels boosts your economic performance,” says Nicholas Johnson, one of the study’s authors.
But that isn’t all. Hage goes on to say that the price paid by citizens for a state run on the cheap extends way beyond the fact that it drains the economy of its potential vibrancy.
“While a low tax rate can be important, other things such as investment in education and health care also matter for the long run,” says James Nguyen of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a business-sponsored research group that publishes a respected annual report card on the states. Minnesota routinely wound up on the group’s “honor roll,” even during its high-tax years.
This is precisely where Minnesota has paid a high price for the low-tax experiment. One reason Minnesota produced a surplus last year is simple austerity: General fund outlays are actually lower today than they were seven years ago, when adjusted for population growth and inflation. State aid to the public schools, adjusted for inflation, has gone down four years in a row. Thousands of families have lost eligibility for subsidized health insurance, and major transportation projects have been put on hold indefinitely.
No tax money invested in a state means less healthy citizens, more hungry ones, an education system that can’t afford to be much more than a baby-sitting service at the primary and secondary levels and a corporate job-training seminar at the college level, and an infrastructure that is falling apart due a lack of maintenance.
And all of those lacks have huge if invisible price tags attached to them: higher medical costs from the uninsured or underinsured being forced to wait until an illness reaches its critical stage to seek health care at an emergency room – the most outrageously expensive of all options; primary schools without nurses or arts programs and short on basic supplies (in the poorer communities in Massachusetts it has become fairly common for teachers to buy things like paper and pencils out of their own pockets because their schools can’t squeeze any more money past the 2 1/2% cap anti-taxers put into law 25 years ago); high schools with outdated textbooks, outdated lab equipment, outdated and inadequate computer resources, no arts programs, no elective courses, band and sports programs where parents have to pay for their kids’ uniforms and protective equipment; bridges collapsing, roads untravelable, local hospitals and clinics closing down, sewer leaks, water mains busting, and on and on and on.
This squeeze goes on even in smaller areas. The last time we had a bad winter, for example, the skimpy appropriations for road salt and plowing that are all the tax cap would allow in most communities ran out right after the first of the year. Towns and cities all over the state had to pay premium, height-of-the-season prices for salt and sand, as well as being forced to hire private construction companies at sky-high prices to clear the roads because so many municipal workers had been laid off that there weren’t enough available to do the job.
The only reason right-wing tax radicals have gotten away with this short-sighted and selfish insistence on putting their own pocketbooks ahead of the public good is that for years liberals consistently put tax money into improving education, health care, the infrastructure, etc. When the virulent anti-taxers came along, all those things were in pretty good shape and the amount of money it took to keep them up to spec was falling, allowing more investment in growth and improvements at all sectors of the economy. Instead of improving, though, we have suffered a long-term deterioration in the public sphere that is going to wind up costing us 20 times as much as maintaining what we had would have. Mark notes the sheer childishness of this approach to public un-spending:
Constructive conservatives have always known better, but the head in the sand CUT TAXES NOW! folks can’t see anything past their own bottom line, and they don’t even see that very clearly. Like children allowed to pick their own food, they can’t seem to understand that a diet of candy and cake washed down with soda pop will exact a price down the road.
And in this case, it isn’t even a price they’re paying. It’s a price they’re making us pay.
A long, must-read article by Scott Shane and Ron Nixon in today’s NYT explains in exhaustive detail what outsourcing govt responsibilities to private contractors has meant.
In June, short of people to process cases of incompetence and fraud by federal contractors, officials at the General Services Administration responded with what has become the government’s reflexive answer to almost every problem.
They hired another contractor.
It did not matter that the company they chose, CACI International, had itself recently avoided a suspension from federal contracting; or that the work, delving into investigative files on other contractors, appeared to pose a conflict of interest; or that each person supplied by the company would cost taxpayers $104 an hour. Six CACI workers soon joined hundreds of other private-sector workers at the G.S.A., the government’s management agency.
Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government. On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000, fueled by the war in Iraq, domestic security and Hurricane Katrina, but also by a philosophy that encourages outsourcing almost everything government does.
¶Competition, intended to produce savings, appears to have sharply eroded. An analysis by The New York Times shows that fewer than half of all “contract actions” — new contracts and payments against existing contracts — are now subject to full and open competition. Just 48 percent were competitive in 2005, down from 79 percent in 2001.
¶The most secret and politically delicate government jobs, like intelligence collection and budget preparation, are increasingly contracted out, despite regulations forbidding the outsourcing of “inherently governmental” work. Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said allowing CACI workers to review other contractors captured in microcosm “a government that’s run by corporations.”
¶Agencies are crippled in their ability to seek low prices, supervise contractors and intervene when work goes off course because the number of government workers overseeing contracts has remained level as spending has shot up. One federal contractor explained candidly in a conference call with industry analysts last May that “one of the side benefits of the contracting officers being so overwhelmed” was that existing contracts were extended rather than put up for new competitive bidding.
¶The most successful contractors are not necessarily those doing the best work, but those who have mastered the special skill of selling to Uncle Sam. The top 20 service contractors have spent nearly $300 million since 2000 on lobbying and have donated $23 million to political campaigns. “We’ve created huge behemoths that are doing 90 or 95 percent of their business with the government,” said Peter W. Singer, who wrote a book on military outsourcing. “They’re not really companies, they’re quasi agencies.” Indeed, the biggest federal contractor, Lockheed Martin, which has spent $53 million on lobbying and $6 million on donations since 2000, gets more federal money each year than the Departments of Justice or Energy.
¶Contracting almost always leads to less public scrutiny, as government programs are hidden behind closed corporate doors. Companies, unlike agencies, are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Members of Congress have sought unsuccessfully for two years to get the Army to explain the contracts for Blackwater USA security officers in Iraq, which involved several costly layers of subcontractors.
Yet in spite of abundant proof that privatization is a miserable and expensive failure, radical Republicans simply won’t learn from their mistake. They’re pushing for even more privatization.
Let’s return for a moment to Texas, the birthplace of mindless corporate control of govt. Gov Rick Perry announced last week that he wants to sell off to a private company the single most lucrative revenue stream in Texas history: the state lottery. San Antonio Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra explains why this is such a dumb notion.
[T]he idea is to sell the Texas Lottery for a huge wad of cash, all at once. Of course, the state would also relinquish Lottery revenues forever — or, at best, for a very long time.
[H]ow wise would it be to sell a lottery that has generated more than $13 billion for the state since 1992, $5 billion of which has gone to schools since 1997, when all of its revenues were earmarked for schooling Texas’ children?
That $5 billion may be only a small part of the miserly sum Texas spends on public schools.
But if we sell the lottery, how exactly will we replace that money once the big up-front payment has been blown? What will be next?
Will we then sell off future property tax or sales-tax revenues, or future revenues from hunting and fishing licenses?
That may sound silly but to Texas conservatives like Perry and Bush, nothing’s off the table. It is an article of faith with them that all privatization, no matter how idiotic or counter-productive, is ipso facto better than govt control.
Caught between these two deadly conservative illusions, we – the people, the taxpayers – are going to be stuck with the bills for boosting stratospheric corporate earnings out of our pockets that the investor class will transfer to its own already-bulging wallet while at the same time suffering a steady decline in services and programs for us and our kids. In other words, we pay a lot more and get a lot less.
1) Did you know that Newtie would never have committed adultery if he wasn’t such a damned passionate patriot?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is in the early stages of a presidential campaign, spoke in an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network about his history of adultery and divorces. And as Gingrich told it, he sought God’s forgiveness — and as for the events themselves, they were driven by how hard he was working and his great passion for America.
“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” said Gingrich.
2) Did you know that an NPR exec was just fired for calling racist Tea Partiers racist?
So James O’Keefe has another scalp.
Apparently, Glenn Beck can call the president of the United States a racist on national television and keep his job, but if you’re an NPR executive who says the same thing privately about a bunch of nameless Teabaggers — you’ve gotta go.
And the real kicker is, what Ron Schiller said is 100% true.
Such is the state of our “news media”. Beck can get away with calling Obama a racist precisely because it isn’t true. Schiller had to be fired precisely because his accusations were accurate – the Tea Party is indeed racist and has proved it on a number of occasions.
Is there any room left in New Zealand?
3) Did you know that even Glenn Beck’s audience is tired of him?
Since last August, when he summoned more than 100,000 followers to the Washington mall for the “Restoring Honor” rally, Mr. Beck has lost over a third of his audience on Fox — a greater percentage drop than other hosts at Fox. True, he fell from the great heights of the health care debate in January 2010, but there has been worrisome erosion — more than one million viewers — especially in the younger demographic.
Hate and paranoia sell, I guess, but only temporarily. Car wrecks are fascinating, too, but eventually one moves on. You know?
When people who have no respect for law are teaching law, you know you’re fucked.
And yes, he’s stupid, too.
Reprinted from 12.24.06 – And it will continue to be printed until the O’Reilly-originated “War on Christmas” BS ends. There’s no antidote to lies except truth.
This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.
Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival
It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950′s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.
The truth is somewhat different.
In America, we are reminded, the idea of a Christmas celebration didn’t really take hold until commercial interests recognized its potential and began to sell it like corn flakes.
The growth of Santa as the predominant icon of Christmas in much of the world grew out of the efforts of retail wizards such as John Wanamaker and Rowland Hussey Macy, founders of the modern department store. Much like the early church fathers, Wanamaker and Macy systematically laid claim to a Christmas of their own making in the 19th century.By this point, said Russell W. Belk, a sociologist and anthropologist at York University in Toronto, Christmas had already been through several incarnations — Christians in the United States had initially resisted Christmas because it was seen as tied to the Catholic calendar, but waves of European immigrants brought traditions of Christmas celebrations with them. Still, the idea of giving gifts to relatives was not the norm, especially among English immigrants, where Christmas gifts were primarily seen as acts of benevolence toward servants and slaves.
Business magnates who had once protested that holidays such as Christmas were a drain on the economy spotted the business potential of Christmas and encouraged the idea of gift-giving among family. Where Christmas gifts had once been primarily about charity, advertisers and marketers encouraged the notion that Christmas was primarily a family celebration and stressed the importance of reciprocal gift exchanges for friends and relatives. By the 20th century, American marketing geniuses led by Coca-Cola had seized on the advertising potential of Santa Claus. Although Santa’s ancestors in Europe and Asia had various religious connotations, the modern Santa is an American invention, with growing appeal in Europe and around the world.
“Coca-Cola to some extent owns Christmas,” said Belk. In the 1930s, he added, “they had a painter commissioned to do one painting of Santa Claus every year . . . it seems likely that the red color of Santa’s outfits came from Coca-Cola’s paintings.”
It doesn’t actually. “Santa Claus” is from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas – Sinterklaas – and the color red was always associated with the Greek St Nicholas who is the source of the icon. (More about him later.) Coke’s artists merely appropriated an image already made famous by Thomas Nast in the 1870′s and 80′s, an action that is fairly symbolic of how the holiday actually developed.
Myth #2: That Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday
The trappings of Christmas are almost entirely pagan in origin. Christmas trees, the lights on both trees and homes, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus, the exchange of gifts – all of it was born in pagan solstice festivals beginning, as far as we can tell, long before Christ’s time. In the context of the solstice, it all makes perfect sense. In a Christian context, they simply don’t belong. What does Christ, a product of the Judean desert, have to do with pine trees, after all? Nothing.
- Christmas trees – Probably born in Germany or the Nordic countries, the ritual symbolism of the solstice evergreen was just that: it was ever green. Unlike the deciduous trees that dominated the forests of northern Europe whose leaves died and fell away as winter began, fir trees remained green all year round. They were the perfect representation in pagan societies for the persistence of life and the fertility of the earth on which those societies depended. Druids (the real ones, not the pale, bogus artifices we know today) worshipped trees, evergreens in particular, because they believed they were the earthly incarnations of spirits and/or gods. Evergreens were believed either to be or to be the homes of spirits who controlled the sun and had the power to bring it back and renew the earth for another year. The custom of bringing a tree inside, almost certainly German, probably began as a form of pagan tree-worship.
- Lights – As the days shortened and the sun threatened to disappear, the long nights became a source of real fear, not just because folk believed it might vanish but because they believed that evil spirits lurked in the dark, and the longer the nights were, the more chance there was that these monsters would wreak havoc on their villages. The solution, of course, was a Festival of Light held, naturally, on the one day of the year that had the least of it. There were torch parades and candles were kept burning all night. When the trees came inside, so did the candles, and by the Victorian era the candles had become attached to the branches of the tree.
- Wreaths – Common to many cultures, wreaths were either worn, as in Rome, or displayed as signs of either special favor or protection from evil. Long before trees were brought into the house, wreaths were attached to doorposts, connecting the magic of the evergreen to individual homes.
- Caroling – Noise has long been believed by many peoples to scare away evil spirits. In China they beat drums and gongs, in Europe they sang. The origin of this particular custom (called “wassailing” in Britain) is lost to history but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it was a natural addition to all the other anti-evil charms employed by our ancestors. So is dancing, of course, so it isn’t surprising that the two were combined. In fact, the original meaning of the word was “circle dance” and was most likely an integral part of the midwinter ritual. We don’t do the dancing part much any more, and it’s too bad.
- Santa Claus – Unlike the rest of our Christmas traditions, Santa Claus does have some slight connection to Christianity. Born to wealthy and devout Christian parents in Patara, then a province of Greece, St Nicholas is supposed to have taken the words of Christ to heart and given away the whole of his large inheritance to relieve the suffering of the poor and the sick. Though he was never ordained, his reputation for piety was such that he was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Persecuted and imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian, he returned to Myra after his release and died there on December 6, 343. For many years after that, the anniversary of his death was celebrated as “St Nicholas Day”.Co-incidence? Sort of. The fact that he died in December only a few days before Saturnalia (the Roman midwinter festival) connected him quite naturally to what became Christmas when the Catholic Church appropriated midwinter festivals for a celebration of the birth of Christ. After centuries of trying unsuccessfully to stamp out these primarily pagan rituals, the geniuses in the Church came up with a brilliant idea: if they couldn’t be stopped, they could certainly be swallowed up – assimilated by the Church and given a Catholic context. This was to prove a valuable and almost universally successful tactic in the centuries to come.St Nicholas Day melded rather naturally into the solstice festivals and it wasn’t long before St Nick and Christmas were inseparable. In many parts of Europe, Dec 6 is still celebrated as both.It should be noted that the St Nick we know is neither Greek nor terribly Christian. He’s Dutch. Sort of….
- The giving of gifts, stockings over the fireplace, and coming down the chimney– Both of these customs arose not in Europe but – are you ready for this? – here. In America. In New York, in fact.
After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride the colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, influential patriot and antiquarian, who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that year he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not a saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the origin of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas; that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving’s work was regarded as the “first notable work of imagination in the New World.”The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children’s treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, “Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”
So Washington Irving invented the Santa Claus we know more or less out of whole cloth, relying on legends (as he often did) and embellishing until the original story was barely recognizable. Irving entirely ignored the religious connotation of the title “saint” and any overt connection to religion, let alone to Christ. His St Nick was already 95% secular, a cultural symbol closer to solstice celebrations than Christian ones.
The total secularization of St Nicholas, morphing him into the Santa Claus we know, was accomplished by only two men: Clement Moore (probably) and Thomas Nast. Moore is generally credited with writing A Visit from St Nicholas(“‘Twas the night before Christmas/and all through the house….” – you know it) for his children in 1822. It forever identified St Nick with the roly-poly, “jolly old elf” of Irving’s story and pretty much divorced him from any possible religious significance. Fifty years later, what Moore had done with words, Nast did with pictures. His cartoons of Santa Claus formed our visual image of the old guy once and for all. Following Irving and Moore, Nast’s Santa is no more a religious figure than, say, Uncle Sam.
Of all the traditions we associate with Christmas, only three are overtly religious: the Nativity Scene, the angel on top of the tree, and going to church. Many Christian churches have the former and most Christians do the latter on Christmas even if they never go the rest of the year. By my count, that makes Christmas roughly 87% secular whether Bill O’Reilly likes it or not.
In the world of Right-wingnuttery, it is considered important to espouse only fundamentalist religious views: gays are evil, abortion is evil, Obama is the Antichrist, and Halloween is a symphony for the devil in which demons hide in candy and take over kid’s souls, turning them into Satan’s Little Helpers, ie witches.
But there’s Christine O’Donnell bragging about once being a witch and having picnics on a satanic altar, so here comes Glenn Reynolds, A-1, top o’ the heap RW blogger, bigger than Powerline and Mad Michelle combined, to tell us – and all his soon-to-be-ex-fundamentalist friends, I suspect – that witchcraft ain’t so bad. I mean, whatever evil lurks in those covens, being “a witch is better than [being] a Marxist. Which is undoubtedly true.” (Via Ray Edroso)
Apparently, backing up an embarrassingly incompetent and hopelessly insane TeaBag whacko is more important in the the RW World than any sort of religious belief one might hold. One wonders what the Values crowd is going to think about Glenn’s wholesale embrace of black magic.